Winter Break in Bangladesh

Published 10/06/2022 in Scholar Travel Stipend
Written by Jahin Rahman | 10/06/2022

My winter break spent in Bangladesh brought numerous moments of fulfillment and reenergized me to work towards supporting my community back home.

I had grown up in Bangladesh until the age of 10. Throughout my life, I have seen tremendous potential of many youth around me go to waste. A lot of kids that I was friends with in my childhood are now victims of child marriage and abuse. I have also seen the tremendous potential Bengali children possess and have been impressed by their drive to learn and adapt to situations. If these kids were given the kind of education that I am receiving, I cannot even fathom where they would be. In high school, I founded an international NGO with multiple sectors in the U.S and Bangladesh to provide educational and developmental opportunities to orphan and street children of Bangladesh. My organization, EYDB, is currently providing thousands of Bangladeshi marginalized youth with the chance to pursue quality education through our education programs. EYDB is a completely student run organization, composed of approximately 200 student volunteers from NYC schools, as well as passionate teens from Dhaka.

This winter break, my main target was to work on a project regarding the distribution of sustainable menstrual hygiene products. I received 70 menstruated hygiene kits from the international organization Days for Girls which could be used for up to two years. In order to distribute these kits, I worked with a grassroots organization in Bangladesh called ProjectWE. My work began in Dhaka, where I attended meetings with ProjectWE to strategize a plan to distribute these kits in areas where there was a high rate of menstrual inequity. We settled on dedicating our distribution in the rural areas of the city of Khulna. In the second week of January, I flew to Khulna from the capital city of Dhaka. There, I met up with a local women’s rights activist named Uzzal Saha, who was also the director of ProjectWE and a graduate student at Khulna University. We spent the evening visiting Khulna University and speaking about the student-led activism in the field of gender equality on campus. The next morning we visited the Khulna Girls School at a nearby village. The distribution began with ProjectWE and myself leading a workshop on menstrual hygiene and displaying the kits. At first, the girls seemed a bit uncomfortable with the discussion of menstruation. However, the representatives from ProjectWE handled the situation very well. As time progressed in the workshop, the girls began to open up more and ask questions. By the end of the workshop, a confident young girl rose up and summarized the meeting for all participants. At the end, we distributed the kits to the schoolgirls.

The next day, another distribution took place at one of the slum areas of Khulna. We decided to conduct the event at one of the community centers in order to reach out to the greatest number of women. Again, the distribution began with a menstrual hygiene workshop and ended as we provided each participant with a kit. When I flew back to Dhaka, we conducted a similar distribution at Dhaka University. At Dhaka University, we were assisted by students to complete the distribution activities.

Throughout our distribution at the different sites, all participants received a survey regarding the usability and comfort of the kits. My plan is that if users agree that the kits are of good use and are willing to buy the kits for a small cost, then I am looking to expand my efforts for a social enterprise. We will provide underprivileged women with sewing machines to sew these sustainable menstrual kits. They will then sell these kits to other women and girls who may be at risk of facing menstrual stigma. In such a manner, these women will have career and financial freedom while allowing other women and girls to have access to these products. In the U.S, I am currently working to secure seed funding for this project.

Another project which I conducted through my non-profit during my visit to Bangladesh was for the assistance of former drug addicted street boys. We were collaborating with Apon, an organization which aims to rescue drug addicted street boys and provide them with rehabilitation services, housing, and education. I took a field visit to Apon in Manikganj - a small village in the outskirts of Dhaka. There, we spent a day with the boys who were currently receiving services from Apon. I spoke with the director of Apon and together we decided on the initiative that EYDB will fund the financial allocations for nurses and doctors at Apon for a year. I am currently in the process of securing a grant for this and sending it to Bangladesh.

As well, I have spent a day shopping for school supplies for thirty kids in Dhaka. I have bought coloring books, notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, geometry boxes, pencil cases, and sharpeners. Our volunteers in Dhaka will travel to distribute these materials to rural schools in the district of Kishoreganj. These materials will be provided to financially underserved students whose families do not have the financial means to contribute to their children’s education.

A key mission of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation is to support and empower others through effective strategies and education. During my trip, I hope that I have done that. Through the distribution of the menstrual kits, we influenced some girls to stay in schools and complete their education by providing them with an essential tool for their health. Through the afterschool program at Apon, I looked to help provide drug addicted youth with an opportunity of sustainable education as they are partaking in a difficult process to make their lives better. Through these projects, I aimed to help fulfill Milken's mission to empower those around us through education.

My visit to Bangladesh this January re-energized me to do the social work that I do through my non-profit EYDB. I felt satisfied to see the smiles of the faces of the children that we aim to support. With this newfound energy, I am looking forward to my goal of providing quality education to all the thousands of street children in Bangladesh. In the next few months, I will be working towards securing grants and financial support for the educational projects that EYDB aims to do in Bangladesh.